How to keep your staff engaged and productive during lockdown and beyond

4 November 2020

Engaged staff are good for business, but how do you make sure your staff stay motivated and productive during lockdown and beyond?

How do you get the most out of your team? Goodlord's Oli Sherlock, Head of Insurance, and Leah Ellis, Head of People, joined Charlotte Campbell, Director of The Able Agent, to discuss how you can equip your lettings staff to get the best results.

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Why is it important to have engaged staff?

Leah Ellis: Ultimately, it makes sure that everyone is living up to their potential, it drives results, ultimately, as well. You can throw money at something, but unless that person is engaged and wants to deliver, you're not going to get those results. We see that all the time. It gives that person confidence, all of the things that are on the screen here. Making sure that someone engaged ultimately is going to make them enjoy what they do, enjoy working with the people that they're working with, really want to help the business that they're working for, and ultimately drive the business forward and adapt when things like a global pandemic come along and you need to have to respond quickly and change the way you do things.

Charlotte Campbell: if we don't know what motivates them and we don't know what fear, perhaps, they have, I think you can risk people leaving. I think retaining good staff is almost as important as attracting new staff and business results, ultimately. People want to work with businesses that are succeeding, that are happy, that are aligned, and ultimately the customers do see that.

Leah Ellis: If you want happy customers, you need to start with the people that are serving those customers. There's no way that customers are going to feel like they've had consistent, standard service, people have gone above and beyond if you're not treating your customers, your employees, in that way too.  ultimately having everybody bought into your business, and I think, no disrespect, but founders and leaders who are so bought in and the business becomes their life, sometimes forget why that wouldn't be the case for Bob, who's entry-level on however much money, minimum and first job. How do you get that person excited as you are? You're the one with the vision, you're the one that started this company, we can't just assume that Bob is going to feel that way too, unless you help them get there. I think that's really important too, being realistic with your expectations on Bob. They're probably not going to be working until midnight every night because they don't have that same level of investment.

What keeps an employee engaged in their work?

Charlotte Campbell: It's whatever motivates them, so that could be money, it could be qualifications. understanding whether people feel competent in their role, whether they feel like they're well-rewarded, whether they feel like they're doing a good job, is one of the most important things. I would challenge everybody watching now and say, well, when was the last time you sat down and said how well a person was doing, because I think we get into autopilot and we do our targets and we have a good month, and those who shout loudest are stuck the bag hardest, but there's those people who work really hard. 

Leah Ellis: What makes every individual engaged is different, that's the first thing to understand. So you need to understand that individual to know what will ultimately make them feel engaged. A lot of my analogies come down to football,  so think of an example of a star player who's gone to a club, he's gone because they've offered them X amount of money, biggest salary ever, but they're not living up to their full potential at that club. That's because it's not just money that's going to make someone feel engaged. It's not just status. That might drive some people more than others, but actually, there's a whole lot of other things behind it. Take that example of a football player who goes to a club - yes, you've got them there, you're paying them, but that doesn't make them feel engaged. That's not delivering results. You need to do a whole lot of other things for them to kind of live up to their potential, to develop their own skills, to be able to adapt to their new team, all of those things.

Oli Sherlock:  Yeah, definitely. I think that really comes down to understanding your staff individually, and,  going back to Charlotte's point,  understanding, what motivates that individual.  What do they like, what do they dislike? What's your relationship like with them? How well do you know them? It does come down to very clearly defined roles, very clearly defined objectives and, in my opinion, short wins. Things that we did in 48 hours, you can show that they've done, delivered and succeeded at. And then rewarding for that, even if it's just a quick email or a quick phone call.

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How do you understand an employee's motivation? 

Leah Ellis: I think the first thing - no tools needed, no money to be spent - is just ask. Ask the question. How am I going to get the best out of you? What gets you excited, what gets you up in the morning? Why do you want to come to work? Ask those types of questions, and by starting there, you're going to get to the bottom of what motivates someone. If I said to you, you can earn £100,000 tomorrow or I can send you on a course that means you're going to earn £200,000 in two years, what's their answer? What's motivating them right now? You can ask those types of questions. In addition to that, I think there's lots of tools out there, some more expensive than others, Meyers-Briggs is one thing that you can do, which uses the psychology of Carl Jung and it looks if you're extroverted, introverted, all of those types of things.

Why would an employee, from their perspective, want to feel engaged with their work?

Oli Sherlock: I think the biggest one at the moment is enjoyment of your role, because it's possible that you could be at home for quite a long time. We don't know what 2021 looks like, so the idea that you don't enjoy your role at the moment, on top of everything else, just adds pressure to that individual. I would argue, at the moment, for an individual, it's so important they find some aspect of enjoyment in their role. We're talking about having something within that day that gives them a focus, that gives them some enjoyment, and it's not material, It's a sense of doing a job well.

How do you define someone's job role?

Leah Ellis:  I was reading about a company that actually asks employees every six months to write down what you think your job description is today. What is your job role? What are your key responsibilities? And they use that as a way to kind of re-collaborate, reset expectations, make sure people are on the same page. That might be something that could be a really useful tool as we go into Q4, to say, okay, right, where are we, coronavirus has changed the way we do everything, what do you think your job description is today? Let's make sure we're on the same page about that and set goals.

Oli Sherlock: Yeah, because that could change over time, right? I think the point there would be to record these and then layer them on top and go, hmm, why is Leah now doing four different things than she was six months ago, or a quarter ago? What's changed? It may well help you to evaluate there are gaps in your team, maybe they're picking up a bit of slack from somebody else or vice-versa.

What aspects of education have you  seen that have resulted in better customer service for letting agents?

Charlotte Campbell: When the lettings negotiator understands legislation, serving notices, how hard the property management team works, what goes wrong  if we haven't got really good references  or if we haven't spoken to the customer and understood a little bit about them.  It's dangerous if our tenants know more than our lettings negotiators. So for me, having that confidence in the law, that underpinning knowledge of what your team do, means that you become what a trusted professional advisor. You're confident in your role, you  know what the landlord's repair obligations are, what the tenant has to do if they spot a small leak in the corner and they don't report it and it then gets worse and the ceiling falls in. If the neg understands that, suddenly they stand up a bit taller, they smooth into the role of advisor. And I think as soon as your team are knowledgeable, engaged and advising your customers, then you're no long selling. It's much easier to advise and say, "Let's get you signed up onto full management" than it is to say, "If you think about full management, let me know." You're much more proactive with it.

How can you monitor productivity when your staff are working from home in ways  that aren’t invasive?

Leah Ellis: There's a difference between measuring productivity and micro-management. We're quite lucky here at Goodlord in the move to working from home, because performance has always been recognised as output. So,  the way you're going to get people being productive is, one, engaging them, and two, setting those clear targets, for example, you need to hit five sales a day or whatever it is and then actually give them the space to be able to do that. Give them the support and give them the space. Because ultimately, they’re going to think why are you not trusting me to do my job? It's giving them the goal, trusting them to achieve that, giving them the skills they need to hit it, and then only if the output isn't there, understanding, well, why is that? What do we need to be doing to drive that? Not constantly watching someone, micro-managing. However, there is something that I think the individual has to understand - that if they're not delivering, then they are going to be watched a little more closely, because we have to understand what's happening.

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